Introduction: Build Your Own "Spy Satellite"

Picture of Build Your Own "Spy Satellite"

I always thought it would be neat to have your own "Spy" Satellite. The fact that we have our own Spy Satellites traveling around the earth just amazes me. So why not have your own? The following instructable shows you how to do just that, build your own Spy Satellite. This is Vs. 1. Oh, and did I mention this is a  "Green" project via recycling old parts? More to come on that.

The Satellite features the following:
  • A wireless camera that can transmit video/audio up to 300ft!
  • Sun tracking garden variety solar panels to recharge is batteries. 
  • Thruster to simulate a burn to position itself in the correct orbit.
  • Speaker for wake up and sleep procedures to conserve power.

Ready to build your own? Well here is how.

Step 1: Finding an Enclosure

Picture of Finding an Enclosure

First thing you need to do is a find a suitable enclosure. I found mine at Goodwill, great place for project parts hunting. I found this great lamp that was missing the base that had everything I was looking for. The flexible neck once removed made a great hole to attached a thruster. The hole for the power cable was perfect for a programming port. And the hole for the on/off switch was a perfect fit for my wireless camera. The odds of you finding this same setup are slim so keep your mind open when looking for an enclosure. Look at things a different way, from different angles. Don't look at things for what they are but for what they could be. Do this and you'll find an enclosure in no time, or you can just build you own. ;-) Take a look at the lamp light cover. Looks like a great rocket or thruster huh?

Step 2: Gutting Time and Primary Parts Arrangement

Picture of Gutting Time and Primary Parts Arrangement

So you have your enclosure. Now comes the fun part....gutting it. Mine was pretty simple. All I had to do was unscrew everything and it practically fell apart. Try to keep any parts you may be able to re use in your project or another in the future and recycle the rest.

Once gutted you need to start pre-fitting your primary components. This way you can work around these parts to avoid some headaches later.

Step 3: Building the Thruster

Picture of Building the Thruster

Ok, so remember how I said you gotta keep your mind open and look at things not for what they are and for what they could be? Well, here is a perfect example. For my thruster what better item to use then a nose hair trimmer lol.

Purchased at Harbor Freight on sale, plus 20% coupon, I quickly found myself converting this into the perfect thruster.
  1. Gut the thruster portion
  2. Glue in a piece of hollowed out threaded rod (can find in lamp section@ your local hard ware store, may need to cut down)
  3. Lightly sand and paint
  4. Cut some perf board to fit inside
  5. Solder different color LED's to the board leaving enough wire to attach some kind of connector (dig in your recycled parts bin to locate connectors or purchase at Radio Shack, etc)
  6. Glue board to thruster and bolt to base of lamp.

Step 4: Adding Audio

Picture of Adding Audio

For this project audio is straight forward. We will be using a small piezo element. Simply glue to the enclosure, add a connector, and your good to go.

Step 5: Building the Chassis

Picture of Building the Chassis

We are going to need some sort of chassis to hold our circuitry and solar panels. I find that by layering perfboards you can make a suitable chassis easily, cheap, and easy to attach parts to. Doing this also allows you to service your satellite easily by being able to attach connectors to it for easy parts removal. Check the following pictures to see how I made mine.

Step 6: Building the Solar Panels

Picture of Building the Solar Panels

For my Satellite I am using 4 rechargeable 2000 Nimh batteries (not including a 9V for the camera). To be able to sustain the batteries for a while we need to keep them charged. To do so I am using two garden light variety solar panels. I removed the panels from the lights and created a mold to give them a clean look and hide where the wires go into the hollow tube. Check out the pictures to see how its done.

Step 7: Building the Solar Panel Chassis

Picture of Building the Solar Panel Chassis

The Solar Panels need to move to be able to track the sun. Using 4 "L" brackets, a micro servo, and some salvaged gears we can build a suitable tracking unit. The "L" brackets are made by buying some 3/4" wide flat aluminum rods, hacking them down to size and bending them accordingly using a vise or set of pliers. Drill holes on each leg for bolts and the Solar Panel tube. One set of brackets I had to cut the width down  so I could attach the servo. Also the bigger "L" brackets need to have a slit dremeled out to allow the passage of the wires during assembly. Check out the pictures for clarification. Find some small gears from an old toy, tape player, etc. Drill out the center to match your Solar Panel tube size and lightly glue on via a dab of hot glue for easy removal if needed. Take a matching gear and attach to the servo. You can cut down the servo horn and attach to that for easy removal of the gear from the servo. Then put it all together based on the pictures.

Step 8: Camera Attachment

Picture of Camera Attachment

The camera portion of this build was the easiest. I purchased a wireless camera on E-Bay for like $30. Simply unscrew the lens, insert the lens through the hole, and screw back into camera. Add a dab of hot glue to keep in place, and attach a 9V battery during operation. Vs 2.0 will turn on via a timing schedule or via remote control.

Step 9: Adding the Progamming Port

Picture of Adding the Progamming Port

I wanted to be able to update the programming and add auxiliary power during demos. I found that a PS2 mouse extension cable worked perfectly. It has enough pins to due the job and by cutting the cable in half gave me both a male and female end with wires ready for soldering. Once stripped and re wired I simply hot glued it in position and added a connector to plug into the circuit board.

Step 10: Building the Circuit Board

Picture of Building the Circuit Board

Now for the most difficult part of the build, the brain. Now seeing how this is built using a lot of junk, and spare parts pulled off of old equipment, its difficult to show you where to put each individual component. Reference the pictures to see where I placed my parts. Also check out the schematic (still working on learning eagle cad) and code below. I am using a Picaxe 14M for the brain. There is lots of info on how to read schematics, program the picaxe, etc on instructables,, and of course google.

For a better picture of the Schematic:

Step 11: Whats Going on in There?

So your probably wondering what the heck is going on. Let me break it down for you. Upon power input the program first checks the voltage input coming off the solar panels. If the voltage is to low it falls asleep. To high and it wakes up, plays its boot up music, and fires its LED thruster. After that the panels start scanning 5 spots in the sky and measures the voltage at each interval. Once complete it compares the values and finds the highest voltage source spot. It then turns its panels to that location and goes falls asleep for a small amount of time to conserve power. After it wakes up its checks the initial voltage and starts the process all over again. If the voltage is to low its plays its boot down music and goes into a long stand by time.

Step 12: Final Assembly

Picture of Final Assembly

All there is left to do is put it all together. I was able to seat my chassis directly into the body and use the two holes I drilled for the Solar Panel tubes as a guide and to stabilize everything. I was able to move the perfboards up and down via the threaded rod for a perfect fit. Once that was complete I pre charged my batteries and uploaded my program. Now I have my own "Spy Satellite".  I nick named it "Obama 1" . President kinda has some big ears lol.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! and don't forget to vote for me for the "Celestron Space Challenge"

Also note  thanks to my friend Steven for the AWESOME picture of the "Spy Satellite" orbiting our great Earth!


debeltron (author)2015-06-10

How did you launch it into space?

tylerodell1029 (author)debeltron2017-06-20

he did not

rayflemming007 (author)2016-01-14

Does this really work?

شرحت (author)2015-08-07

Possible one made me and I will buy you

OusZ (author)2015-07-23

The link for the schematic is not working may you please send me a working link of the entire schematic for this project please and thanks

creativebuild (author)2015-06-28

If you want it to go to the atmosfer
Well you need a helium baloon

vishali.sharma.779 (author)2014-10-28

Sir where this satellite launch means in LEO, MEO or GEO and whats the height of the satellite from the surface of earth.

And plz give your email id for further discussion and launch of the sat

It is not real... It is a toy...

mohideen.m.azi (author)2015-01-14

javajunkie1976 (author)2011-08-12

I did some basic research on what sort of requirements there are to launch a satellite into space and if you could figure out a way to seal this against the vacuum and heat the interior above freezing, you'd be able to send this up on the next flight. You'd also need a way to transmit the images captured farther than the 300 feet. Finally, you'd need a way to maintain the orbit that it's in. I figure for this, a couple of cigar tube cannisters of CO2 gas and a RCS array.

Anyhow, that's my two cents...

brjasper (author)javajunkie19762011-09-15

Putting something in orbit is a lot more involved than that. Electronics in general tolerate low temperatures quite well despite official specifications saying otherwise. There is no need to pressurize it.

The electronics would have to go through a number of tests to see if they're safe for launch. The shake test has destroyed many a board. It's not a trivial task but not overly difficult to design and construct boards that will survive the physical tests for launch tolerance.

The most challenging problem in space is two types of radiation effects which are explained a bit in the link here.

That's just an electronic board in space.  When you start talking attitude control and vectoring with thrust the requirements go to a whole new level.  If you have the money it's pretty easy to build a Cubesat from a kit and put it in orbit.  They can't have any type of propellent on board, but they can have attitude control to direct cameras.

No one would launch this, but there's no such restrictions on high altitude balloons...

Mike63 (author)brjasper2014-05-27

Actually you might want to read up here on high altitude balloons, but since it has been 2 years since you posted this maybe you've seen it, but at least others can read it now.

nschreiber0813 (author)2014-04-21

Honestly I have to say I want to build my own space satellite. If I were to build a satellite what should the satellite be built to withstand. I can't find anywhere what the satellite requirements should be. Can anybody help me.

devendra554 (author)2013-10-24

is it easy to make this satellite

SolomonGhull (author)2013-09-28

Good sir,
Does the thruster head have to look exactly the same? Or could it be something like this:

I'm was also curious about the audio bit, I've found the piezo element, but at risk of sounding stupid: What is the actual audio piece we're using? Piezo elements on amazon only look like an enlarged metal washer, yours looks totally different. Also: finding it hard to find a small enough wireless camera. Could you link me to one on ebay/amazon please?
Thanks very much, Solomon.

SpectrHz (author)2013-09-21

Saw this a mini Maker faire :)

awsure (author)2013-06-05

I'm wondering how much it weighs, also where does it transmit the images to/ is it controllable or completely automated?

PINKmonster325 (author)2011-08-20

Omg, try adding real rockets to the thrusters
(just an idea, though)

pbecker83 (author)PINKmonster3252011-08-20

LOL, Ill keep it in mind. ;-)

get some of those solid rocket engines made for 2 feet-ish tall model rockets.

Flying_MashedPotatoes (author)2011-08-20

Wow, this is awesome, seriously, this is pretty freaking sweet. The shiny metal casing was great use, and that nose trimmer for the thruster was ingenious! Great job, looks so good, and clean!

Thanks! I really appreciate the positive feedback. :-) . I have some more plans up my sleeves so be on the look out for other hopefully great projects. Thanks again!

pbecker83 (author)2011-08-17

Woo Hoo! First place! Thanks to everyone who voted, rated, and to all the other participants. Special thanks to the folks at Celestron for the great prizes and instructables for hosting. Look for more projects in the future. Thanks again, I had a blast. Patrick

fazgard (author)2011-08-14

Very cool, looks like you had fun building it too ..

pbecker83 (author)fazgard2011-08-14

Thanks fazgard! Of course I had fun ;-) although frustrating at times. It can be difficult to build things from scratch but you gotta keep at and you will prevail. One thing I go off of is the KISS ( "Keep It Simple Stupid") principal. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, just make it work.

fazgard (author)pbecker832011-08-15

You're welcome, and I've got to say that one of my favorite parts is the research that went into finding the correct thruster!

pbecker83 (author)fazgard2011-08-15

I just kept my eyes and mind open. Ill sometimes just roam through the aisles of Lowes, Harbor Freight, etc looking for something. Sometimes it where you never think to look where you find exactly what your looking for.

Lyron (author)2011-08-08

Very nice!

You should make more and sell them as a toy, i think theyre truly fascinating!

pbecker83 (author)Lyron2011-08-08

Thanks Lyron. Appreciate the comment. I always wanted to become a toy maker.

The nerdling (author)pbecker832011-08-11

me to

pbecker83 (author)The nerdling2011-08-14


The nerdling (author)pbecker832011-08-14

i know now i am going to open a hobby shop and i am 14

stephenfitton (author)2011-08-11

Nice work, if you cant get a bulb shape use the round ball from the old toilet float, back in 1957 that with four old transistor radio aerials won the science award for looking like sputnik 1 (oldandeasy)

pbecker83 (author)stephenfitton2011-08-14

Good idea stephenfitton. I recently visited the "Cosmosphere" in Hutchinson, KS and they had a Sputnik backup unit on display. Very cool and great to draw inspiration from. I actually wanted to implement the original Sputnik sounds into the project. Also a possible Vs 2.0 upgrade.

stephenfitton (author)pbecker832011-08-14

Sputnik sounds, sounded like an off-key morse transmitter with fade in and fade out as it passed overhead. For the correct sounds go back into newsreel achives of the times, record onto a loop,then you can play back. I believe the V2 model had an attached solar cell,that is a guess at this time. I am sure if you contact the Russian university system it would now be freely available. all you home inventors, a 13 year old kid built a 6Ft 6inch rocket that flew 55 miles verticle before the gvt could get past 50miles see Movie(october Sky)

pbecker83 (author)2011-08-14

Thanks for everyone's votes and support on this project! Wish me luck!

MACKattacksnipe (author)2011-08-11

Why would you name it after a LIBRAL

LOL. The decision was merely appearance based, not political based.

arpoky (author)MACKattacksnipe2011-08-12

Though I know it's not politically-based. If it were, however, it might be because Obama passed acts that allow the Federal Government to go creeper on Internet users. With this set of laws, he can bypass your privacy policy on FaceBook or MySpace in order to search for possible "threats" or "information". I like to call that set of laws "The Paranoia Act".

Wazzupdoc (author)2011-08-12

I like the project, but don't seem to get the link to the code. The *.bas links to a *.tmp file for me. Any suggestions?

pbecker83 (author)Wazzupdoc2011-08-13

Interesting. Happens to me too. I uploaded it again. Download it and change the file extension to .bas or .txt or even .doc and that should get you going.

frikkie (author)2011-08-13

freaken awesome!

Treknology (author)2011-08-11

Great little project, and I love the recycling aspect.

pbecker83 (author)Treknology2011-08-11

Thanks Treknology, I love recycling old parts. Plus it save you lots of money unless you buy in bulk. Not very many parts were new on this project, and the ones that where where parted out and what was not used recycled.

Wasagi (author)2011-08-11

Amazing. I anticipate these in these to be floating around Earth in the thousands before this decade is through ;)

bowmaster (author)2011-08-11

This is cool. Now I wanna make a dummy satilite, make it look burnt and damaged, then tell people it chrashed in my backyard.

pbecker83 (author)bowmaster2011-08-11

Thanks! How cool would that be? Scale it up, dig a pit in your back yard, scatter debris, that would be awesome lol

bowmaster (author)pbecker832011-08-11

Maybe even order some damaged solar cells and put them on, use old computer MoBos and cards, etc. Then use a blowtorch (wearing a respirator) to give the whole thing a burnt up, slightly melted look.

javajunkie1976 (author)2011-08-08

Pretty good and here I thought we had the first Diy-er to actually put something up in space...

pbecker83 (author)javajunkie19762011-08-11

Ah maybe one day my friend, one day, especially when the cost of getting things there goes down SIGNIFICANTLY lol.

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